You are on page 1of 7

Turtle Heart: a Revolution for the Oceans

a Revolution for the Oceans

by Wallace J. Nichols, PhD
Photo: Oceana

“If we are to repair what man has broken,

it will take a revolution of individuals
full of passion and commitment...”

The San Diego Natural Guide Spring / Summer 2006 13

Turtle Heart: a Revolution for the Oceans

A Sea Turtle Named Adelita


Pacific coast of the Baja California
peninsula, we gathered over a large
loggerhead turtle. Martin Arce,
a Santa Rosaliita fisherman, his
daughter Adelita at his side. Other
fishermen, scientists and volunteers
you are as excited about this as we
At night I couldn’t sleep. Lying
awake thinking about Adelita. Pray-
ing for her safety. Wondering what
was beneath her and above her. Was
she hungry? How did it feel to be
surrounded the work site.
going home after so many years?
The fiberglass resin we need to
Checking my email for her latest
attach the satellite transmitter to the
position. Hoping there would be one.
turtle’s shell dried slowly. The sun
“Do you ever find yourself thinking
was shining but the air was cool. And
of her in the middle of the night?” I
the wind. The wind howled off the
asked myself in the form of a ques-
tion to the online tracking list.
From the skiff, 5 kilometers from
Barbara Garrison, a San Diego
the coast, we lowered the turtle to the
teacher replied with the poem
ocean. She tasted the salt through her
nostrils, stroked her long flippers and “ADELITA SLEEPS”:
bolted through the blue. Hesitation
at 20 meters then a steep descent into Sister of mercy adrift in the
the deep. World; Her carapace around her
We named the turtle “Adelita.” like a habit following the liturgy
Simultaneously the name of a little Of longitude like the Stations
girl and a hero of the Mexican Revo- of the Cross
lution. The drawstring of dream
For 368 days Adelita swam west. Gathering with each dive;
Daily, the small box on her back A sea shadow cradled in the
revealed her location to us via geosta- Arms of the great Turtle Mother
tionary satellites and a link to the base
station in France. We studied the data Nicholas from Cincinnati wrote:
and uploaded it to the Internet, for all “Remember me? I don’t really have
the world to see. any questions, I just want to thank
Oblivious to the millions of eyes you for coming here and working
on her, Adelita stroked on. Through with us. It was a lot of fun and very
the deepest, wildest, humanless exciting. We are very excited about
expanse of our planet. Alone. Yet not Adelita crossing the International
alone at all. Date Line and we’re having a party
One student wrote: “Hi J., this is soon.”
Meghan and I was just wondering if

14 The San Diego Natural Guide Spring / Summer 2006

Turtle Heart: a Revolution for the Oceans
The Virgin of Cobre guiding Brie asked: “I was wondering,
through the dangerous sea; what are you gonna do when Adelita
The black sand memory of her gets to Japan? I mean are you gonna
natal beach ringing her course send a team in to get her, J? Or
in perils of instinct. what!!!??”

I wrote back: “Brie, I’m not really
At some point Adelita crossed the sure. If she comes on the beach to
International Date Line, roughly the nest, there’s a chance that we could
half way point, and we became more find her and get the tag back. Perhaps
confident that she was bound for her we could re-tag her (if we have the
natal Japan. That she was seeking the money and a tag). Got any ideas?
beach where she was born, decades She may swim around near the nest-
before. ing beach for a while before she actu-
ally lays eggs. She will need to mate
Cartographer. Explorer. with a male loggerhead.”
World traveler. Adelita sleeps. Yukki from Japan, wrote: “I didn’t
know that turtles born in Japan are
swimming around the Pacific…”

Photo: Jon Snow

A leatherback hatchling makes its way to the ocean. Leatherbacks are critically endangered in
the Pacific Ocean. Their epic migrations connects Californian, Mexican and Asian waters.

The San Diego Natural Guide Spring / Summer 2006 15

Turtle Heart: a Revolution for the Oceans
A Shinto priestess leads the way;
A goddess path from Mexico
To the arribada on a distant
Kyushi shore.

On the 368th day of Adelita’s jour-

ney we lost her signal. Millions of
us, having spent the days and nights
Photo: Wallace J. Nichols
with her, never heard from her again.
Shells from some of the thousands of sea
She had swum 11,500 km from Baja turtles that are hunted and eaten every year in
to Japan. Her last position was near northwest Mexico. Grassroots efforts and high
Isohama, a fishing port in the Sendai media campaigns work to reduce the poaching
province. Her fate: Inconclusive. of these endangered animals and to promote
sustainable alternatives, such as ecotourism
and fisheries management.

The Heart of the Sea Turtle Revolution

EIGHT YEARS HAVE PASSED fiesta. By day, stories and data are

since the Grupo Tortugero first gath-

vationists, Mexico’s largest grassroots

ocean conservation network now
represents more than 500 people from
shared. The energy is contagious, the
ered in Loreto. From an initial group stakes are high and the goal is nothing
of 45 fishermen, scientists and conser- short of a sea turtle revolution.
Some say such words - dedication,
passion, love of nature - are overly
sentimental. Some say that deep per-
no fewer than 25 communities. sonal relationships get in the way of
The group’s coordinator, Rodrigo one’s goals. Some say that it’s hard
Rangel, grew up on Isla Magdalena. to maintain one’s status as a respect-
Part of a line of fishermen, sea turtle able scientist and also be an effective
was common fare in his home. advocate for the ocean. Some say
“At first, my family called me an that to restore nature is only a matter
‘ecologista’ and tempted me with sea of dollars and enforcement. Some
turtle soup. Now they get it. They whole-heartedly disagree with all of
respect my work and they help me this.
to protect sea turtles. The sea turtle If we are to repair what is broken in
revolution is happening one person at nature, it will take a revolution full
a time,” explains Rodrigo. of passionate celebration and com-
Rodrigo presides over the group, mitment to each other. On the Baja
which fills half of Loreto’s municipal peninsula, within a growing number
auditorium. The meeting is equal of people that inhabit the towns along
parts conference, family reunion, and its shores, you’ll find the heart of that
ocean revolution.

16 The San Diego Natural Guide Spring / Summer 2006

Turtle Heart: a Revolution for the Oceans
The fishermen who monitor sea
turtles along the peninsula take great
pride that their sea turtles are com-
ing back. They confidently tell the
story of the sea turtle’s return. And

they link the nascent recovery to the
same newfound spirit that guides their
fishing - take what you need, protect
what should be protected, self-enforce
within the community, and teach the
children as well.
In every part of the world, School children lined up and made this
sea turtles formation to share a powerful message on
a southern California beach. The Ocean is
are considered Life. No animal symbolizes that better than a
threatened or endangered. sea turtle.

grupo tortuGuero

Founded in 1999, GRUPO TORTUGUERO is a network of individuals,

communities, organizations, and institutions from around the world ded-
icated to sea turtle conservation. We envision sea turtles fulfilling their
ecological roles on a healthy planet where all people value and celebrate
their continued survival. We empower people and their communities
to conserve sea turtles by building a diverse conservation network to
expand knowledge, develop innovative solutions and share them widely.


-Join the Grupo Tortuguero! Volunteer, attend annual meetings and help spread the
conservation message in your area. Contact Lindsey Peavey, volunteer coordinator, by
phone at 619-574-6643 or email
-Donate Funds You can directly support the work of Grupo Tortuguero through a tax-
deductable donation. For more information, visit
-Get Informed! Visit to learn more about sea turtles and the
work that is being done to protect them.

The San Diego Natural Guide Spring / Summer 2006 17

Turtle Heart: a Revolution for the Oceans

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols

is Director of Conservation Science
at Pro Peninsula, a Research
Associate at the California Academy
of Sciences and collaborates with
numerous non-profit organizations
and government agencies on a range
of ocean and coastal research, con-
servation and education programs,
including Ocean Revolution. His
academic background is in Wildlife
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as
well as Natural Resource Economics
and Policy. He holds graduate
degrees from the University of
Wallace J. Nichols weighs a green turtle in Arizona and Duke University.
Baja California, Mexico.

Suggested Reading:
Chelonia: Return of the Sea Turtle
Written by Wallace J. Nichols
Illustrated by Dawn Navarro
This children’s book, based on a true event,
tells of a rescue, recovery and eventual return
to the wild of a green sea turtle. Beautifully
illustrated, entertaining and informative.
Each English-language book purchased
through Pro Peninsula allows the donation
of one Spanish-language copy to a classroom
in a Baja California community. To order your
copy or to get more information on “Chelonia,”

Turtle Friendly Links:
A bilingual website highlighting work of individuals, communities, organizations, and institutions
from around the world dedicated to sea turtle conservation.
An international program developed to connect, inspire and empower a new wave of your leaders
to find creative solutions to protect our oceans.
Your seafood choices make a difference! Seafood Guides to help you
make choices that are good for you and good for sea turtles.

18 The San Diego Natural Guide Spring / Summer 2006

Turtle Heart: a Revolution for the Oceans

Photo: Terri Garland
Researcher Louise Brooks releasing a loggerhead sea turtle in Baja, as part of the Grupo
Tortuguero’s ongoing monitoring project.

Sea Turtle Education Program

The Grupo Tortuguero and Pro Peninsula* are happy to visit classrooms
and community groups throughout Baja California, Southern California and
the Bay Area to teach sea turtle biology, conservation and interpret current
research efforts. An educator can come to the site of your choice to lead this
unique sea turtle education experience, bringing with them activities, models
and other materials. Each presentation is prepared depending on the interest
and age-level of the audience. We can do both in-class or in-the-field presenta-
tions, and are happy to work with teachers and group leaders to develop an
educational event that will get students excited about saving sea turtles from
extinction, aware of human impact on marine life and conscious of their sur-
rounding natural environment.

For more information on these education programs, please contact:

Lindsey Peavey -; 619-808-7730

*Pro Peninsula is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering communities and

organizations on the Baja California peninsula to protect and preserve their environment. They
work with the Grupo Tortuguero to manage the sea turtle monitoring project, promote commu-
nity-level outreach and education, and organize biannual network meetings.

The San Diego Natural Guide Spring / Summer 2006 19